There is no doubt that the NFL has been under an incredible amount of heat in the past year. From the recent video of Cris Carter speaking to rookies to the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals to commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Deflategate, it would be hard to find someone who feels positively about the organization at this point.
And it’s about to get even harder.
On Monday, Columbia Pictures released a trailer for the movie “Concussion.” It is slated to come out Christmas day and features Will Smith in his typical role of the hero. Except this time, he is playing Bennet Omalu, the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The villain of the film couldn’t be any less satisfactory. Yes, it’s very clearly the NFL, and yes, Luke Wilson is playing Roger Goodell.
The story “Concussion” tells is of Omalu, who examined the brain of Steelers great and Hall of Famer center Mike Webster, and found changes in the brain that were reminiscent of Alzheimer’s yet different. In a 50-year-old man.
The story of Webster is one that would make any sports fan attempt to hold back tears. A great center and winner of four Super Bowls in the ’70s was left to battle on his own what is now known to be CTE. The original article on which the movie was based, “Game Brain” — published in GQ and written by Jeanne Marie Laskas — describes Webster as being homeless, using a taser to get himself to sleep and forgetting how to eat.
This is frightening. This is a man whom a town idolized — the town I grew up in. And yet I had no idea that he suffered in the way he did and that the NFL refused to give him more than a partial disability claim, meaning he received only $3,000 a month when he could have been receiving $12,000.
Many movies depict the fight between David and Goliath. Some show a single person coming from behind to tackle the big corporation. But this one seems to hit home on a whole other level.
Omalu went on to find the same brain damage in many other NFL players, who died at young ages and in similar circumstances, such as former Steeler offensive lineman Terry Long.
The release of this movie trailer does not mark the first time this summer that the NFL’s issues and checkered past with concussions have been thrust into the spotlight. Junior Seau — former linebacker for, most famously, the San Diego Chargers — was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seau committed suicide in 2012. The NIH later announced that he tested positive for CTE.
But the big topic of conversation surrounded Seau’s daughter, Sydney, who was not allowed to give a speech on her father’s behalf. This was due to a rule the hall had implemented in 2010 that prohibited anyone from speaking at the event for the deceased. Despite the rule, a lot of the press surrounding the decision made it seem as if the NFL were afraid of what Seau’s daughter would say.
More recently, however, the subject of concussions seems to have quieted somewhat — until this trailer came out. Fitting, because this is how the league treated this problem for many years. With silence. Omalu’s research was ignored and refuted for years on end. Then magically, when the evidence was too much to be ignored, the NFL decided to jump on the concussion bandwagon, suddenly became the pinnacle of concussion research and began implementing rules to prevent head trauma.
This movie can’t come out soon enough. This problem is real, and I hope this film brings increased attention to how the NFL has been treating head trauma. I’m sick and tired of hearing about players who were once revered ending their lives in such pain. Football deserves more. More importantly, the players deserve more.
Alaina Getzenberg is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]